A year ago I wrote a critical post about ‘Dyke Denial at Chirk Castle‘. Despite being a fan of this wonderful National Trust property, I was disappointed by the low priority given to informing and educating visitors about Offa’s Dyke which runs through the grounds.
Visitors enter by car, coach bicycle or on foot, crossing Offa’s Dyke as they near the car park. They then walk over Offa’s Dyke having got their tickets. They may stand upon the line of Offa’s Dyke in the adventure play ground beside the cafe and kids can play on Offa’s Dyke: pushing around toy tracdtors. Furthermore, they can walk over the Dyke to visit the kitchen garden and picnic area. They can even walk down Offa’s Dyke via a footpath. They can do all this, and many will not even realise Offa’s Dyke is there!
Likewise, Offa’s Dyke is also accessible within the wider castle grounds, even if a footpath doesn’t follow it for large sections.
Yet in the castle and gardens, there is little to explain this monument. I admit the Dyke significantly denuded in the castle’s landscape setting and therefore not readily apparent. Yet some considered display boards and other information could readily be deployoed to raise awareness of this monument for visitors.
Offa’s Dyke is a threatened and ill-understood monument. It was perhaps built whole or in part by the late eighth-century ruler of Mercia – Offa – as part of a complex frontier with his Welsh rivals. The line of this internationally renowned early medieval linear earthwork – unquestionably the largest and longest human-made structure from prehistoric, Roman and medieval times surviving in the British Isles – is not marked out on the ground at Chirk. There are also no dedicated heritage signs or detail in the guide book about it. Therefore, much of my critique remains valid that NT Chirk find themselves in ‘dyke denial’ – focusing instead on the medieval and post-medieval castle and its grounds in their story of the site.
However, today I visited and noted that there were new maps of Chirk Castle and its gardens to help visitors navigate this fabulous site. Among these, there is a new map of the castle grounds on which Offa’s Dyke is now clearly shown.
In addition, there is a footpath sign that denotes the dyke, although it is unclear why it is claimed to only be ‘open’ in the spring, summer and early autumn…
NT Chirk remains in ‘dyke denial’, but this is a major and helpful step forward.